Cousin Martin, in his frequent travels to Costa Rica, always seeks out locally-produced cookbooks for me. I adapted these muffins from a banana cake recipe in one of his recent finds, The Best Recipes: Costa Rica, published by Ediciones Jadine S.A. in San José. When I made the cake according to the original recipe, I wasn't thrilled with the texture, though the flavor was nicely spiced and not too sweet. After a tweak here and there, and the last-minute addition of a handful of chocolate chips to half of the batter, I'm happy to recommend these muffins to you. The flavor of banana takes center stage, and you'll love the subtle notes of clove and vanilla, too. Eliminate the nuts if they're not your thing, or add more chocolate chips. Serve these muffins with afternoon tea or morning coffee, or sneak one into your child's lunch box.
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"When I read your post about how much you love Bundt pans, what choice did I have but to run out to my studio and make you one?" Lorna wrote in an email a couple of weeks ago. "This one is wheel-thrown stoneware that has been glazed with food safe colorants and fired to 2250 degrees in a gas kiln. To thank you for the many lovely dishes we've enjoyed courtesy of your creativity, I would love to send this to you." I'm so deeply honored to have this beautiful addition to my kitchen, and to inaugurate it, I baked Lorna's sour cream cake from a recipe she sent along with the pan. If you don't have a small Bundt pan like this one (it's a five-cup size), make this recipe in a standard loaf pan. Beware: this moist, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cake, perfect for afternoon tea or breakfast or brunch, is ever so slightly addictive. I know, because my husband Ted and I kept cutting slices and nibbling until it was all gone. Lorna, thank you for your kindness.
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On one of those days when silly little things were going wrong -- the bank machine was out of cash, and the office where I need to get my dump sticker was closed at 11 a.m. for no reason at all -- I absolutely, positively needed chocolate to restore my equilibrium. With no stash of candy or brownies in the house, I pulled out a recipe I've been saving for months from Ingredient, a cooking magazine for children. Chocolate cake in a mug (or an old glass measuring cup), made in less than two minutes. Almost like a brownie, the cake, kicked up from the original recipe with grown-up pantry items (walnuts, cinnamon, crystallized ginger, sea salt), delivered nearly instant gratification. The dump sticker could wait.
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Don't you love a recipe with a pedigree? I do. This Swedish soda bread recipe came to me from my friend Bev, who first tasted a version of it at an opening reception at the Providence Art Club. Bev asked Joan, the artist, for the recipe; Joan had made it as Irish soda bread, with caraway seeds instead of cardamom, and shortening instead of butter. When I sampled Bev's Swedish adaptation, it seemed more like cake, so I baked mine in one of the Bundt pans I collect but seldom use. (I can't explain my fascination with Bundt pans. I just love them.) Bev made hers in a round cake pan. Serve the soda bread warm, with a pat of sweet butter and a cup of tea, when friends stop by for a mid-afternoon visit.
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As much as I love chocolate -- and I do love chocolate -- I seldom bake or eat chocolate cake. Truth be told, I'm more of a cookie gal. However, when the pantry presented me with all of the ingredients for this double chocolate pumpkin pecan loaf cake, including some canned pumpkin left from baking these pumpkin chocolate chip biscotti, I couldn't resist. Despite the presence of chocolate chips, this cake is not overly sweet, yet it's melt-in-your-mouth moist. Kathy and I thought a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt would make a perfect topping, but we didn't have any on hand when we took the photographs. (Good thing, too, or you'd be seeing even less of the cake than you are now.) Make your cake ahead, let it cool completely, cut it in half cross-wise and freeze it. That way you'll have some on hand for the holidays, and some for a lucky friend or two who might stop in for afternoon tea.
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